Short-term Rentals

Are they unusually prevalent in New Orleans?

One of the most contentious issues facing city leaders in New Orleans is the prevalence of short-term rentals, where platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, Craigslist and others allow users to stay in private residences during their visits to the city.

Owners can offer an entire property, a spare bedroom or even a couch, providing an often much less expensive alternative to hotels and giving tourists increased access to neighborhoods outside of downtown and the French Quarter.

Opponents of this practice contend that short-term rentals erode neighborhood stability and character, raise costs for full-time residents by shrinking the overall supply of long-term rental units, deprive the city of tax revenue, and flout lodging safety regulations.

Proponents, meanwhile, argue that they provide affordable and comfortable alternative accommodations for visitors, boost the overall local economy, and generate legitimate income for individual property owners. As in many cities throughout the country, the city’s leadership has worked to forge consensus on an evolving set of requirements and restrictions.

The issue has been studied in depth by the New Orleans Planning Commission and by advocacy groups, but the answer to an important question has always eluded me: Are short-term rentals unusually prevalent in New Orleans? The answer, at least by one measure, seems to be yes, and decidedly so.

I analyzed the number of rentals offered through the largest short-term rental platform, Airbnb, in the 50 most populous cities in the United States, as reported by AirDNA, one of several websites devoted to reporting statistics based on Airbnb rentals. The data is from late July, which I can only assume provides a conservative count of local Airbnb offerings, given that this time of year is far from our prime tourism season.

According to AirDNA, there were 4,431 rentals offered through Airbnb in New Orleans, which ranks 10th among the nation’s largest cities. However, the overall number of rentals is comparable to Washington, D.C. (4,337), and Seattle (5,014), whose populations are nearly twice that of New Orleans, according to 2015 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. In fact, New Orleans ranks second only to Miami in the number of Airbnb listings per capita. There is one listing for every 88 residents in New Orleans, compared to one listing per 113 residents in San Francisco, one per 128 in Austin, and one per 137 in Seattle.  

There are other interesting insights from the AirDNA data as well. For example, 24 percent of the 2,941 hosts (generally property owners) who offer Airbnb listings in New Orleans are “multiple listing hosts,” meaning that they rent out more than one property and are less likely to be living on-site and more likely to be operating professionally or semiprofessionally on Airbnb. That percentage ranks fourth in the nation, behind Las Vegas (30 percent), Detroit (26 percent) and Memphis (25 percent). There are 1.51 listings per host in New Orleans, meaning that about 49 percent of listings are offered by multiple listing hosts, ranking eighth among the country’s largest cities.

And, for what it’s worth, New Orleans Airbnb listings appear to be just above the middle of the pack with respect to visitor satisfaction; we rank 22nd in the percentage of listings receiving the highest “five-star” ratings and 16th in the percentage of hosts classified as “super hosts”—those designated by Airbnb as providing exceptional service.

These measurements are, naturally, somewhat coarse, but they clearly indicate an uncommon density of short-term rental listings in New Orleans compared to other cities. This is a significant consideration for residents and city leaders for a couple of reasons.

First, it is clear from the City Planning Commission’s study of the issue that short-term rentals are prevalent in neighborhoods where a large percentage of renters are cost burdened. And secondly, it highlights the overall complexity, sensitivity and urgency of coming to grips with the “sharing economy” in a way that fosters entrepreneurship while also honoring and supporting the livelihoods and investments of lifelong residents and conventional businesses.  

Robert Edgecombe is an urban planner and consultant at GCR Inc. He advises a wide range of clients on market conditions, recovery strategies, and demographic and economic trends.

Categories: The Magazine